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Latest delay in San Diego street vending ordinance draws anger from Ocean Beach Town Council

Vendors set up shop at the foot of Newport Avenue at Abbott Street in Ocean Beach in 2019.
(File / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

With a street vending ordinance not going before the San Diego City Council in December after Councilwoman Jennifer Campbell had announced her intention to present it, that issue became a focal point during the Ocean Beach Town Council’s January meeting.

City Council member Sean Elo-Rivera, who replaced Campbell as council president in December, canceled a hearing scheduled for Dec. 14 on the long-awaited legislation, saying his office had not received a draft of the ordinance in time for it to be docketed. He sent the issue back to the council’s Economic Development and Intergovernmental Relations Committee, meaning a further delay.

The effort was headed for a vote Dec. 14, but the new City Council president sends the proposed law back to the council’s economic development committee.

Protracted debate at the Jan. 26 OB Town Council meeting couldn’t establish whether a draft of the ordinance had yet been completed.

Potential new limits on vendors in San Diego have been delayed at least five times since the state passed a law in 2018 aiming to encourage street vending as a new class of small business.

But Campbell’s representative, as well as OBTC members and police, called the street vending ordinance a top priority.

Ocean Beach residents have complained that crowds of vendors are ruining the beach areas and benefiting from unfair competition with local businesses.

“There’s nothing more true than to continue to acknowledge the fact that this is the top issue in OB at this point and it has been for a long time,” said OBTC President Corey Bruins. “As emotions flare up around this, it really is getting to the point where community members, community leaders, even those of you who are working in government offices, are throwing their hands in the air and shouting, ‘It’s beyond past time.’ To a certain point, it’s reasonable to have a little bit of anger around that.”

The latest hurdles in drafting a San Diego street vendor ordinance had many people attending the April meeting of the Ocean Beach Town Council bristling at the possibility of delays in the city taking charge of a situation residents deemed chaotic.

Teddy Martinez, Ocean Beach representative for Campbell, whose District 2 includes OB and Point Loma, said in his monthly report to the Town Council that the Economic Development and Intergovernmental Relations Committee, of which Campbell is a member, would hear the street vending ordinance on Wednesday, Feb. 9.

Martinez added that he was hoping to provide copies of the draft ordinance before that date.

“A little bit of a setback in terms of timing for us, obviously, but we’re excited that we have a date to hear that in committee and see that through,” Martinez said.

In a question-and-answer session that followed, OBTC board member Gary Gartner, who serves as the group’s local government advocacy liaison, asked whether a draft copy was available.

When Martinez said he hadn’t seen one, Gartner said two City Council members whom he wouldn’t identify had informed him privately that a draft ordinance was not presented to them, either in December or January.

“Why do you lie to people and why does your office and your boss lie to us in the community when you don’t even have an ordinance?” Gartner asked Martinez. “That is just wrong. ... I spoke to a council member before coming to this meeting tonight. I was told directly that there was not even a draft ordinance ready to be introduced. ... That is why I’m upset.”

OB Town Council board member Gary Gartner (right) questions Teddy Martinez, representing City Councilwoman Jennifer Campbell.
Ocean Beach Town Council board member Gary Gartner (right) questions Teddy Martinez, Ocean Beach representative for San Diego City Councilwoman Jennifer Campbell, about delays in a city street vending ordinance Campbell has been spearheading.
(Courtesy of Ocean Beach Town Council)

A street vending ordinance introduced in 2019 by then-Mayor Kevin Faulconer passed the economic development committee before being shelved at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020. Martinez said the new ordinance will be essentially the same but enhanced by modifications based on input from the community and a survey of street vendors.

“So whenever folks ask me, ‘Hey, do you have a draft?’ I would refer them back to that draft because it was pretty much the framework,” Martinez said.

San Diego Police Department Community Relations Officer David Surwilo said he had seen a copy of the current draft ordinance.

“I have no skin in the game in regard to defending Teddy,” Surwilo said, “but I will tell you that there was a draft. I have physically seen it. ... I do honestly from the bottom of my heart believe that had Jen Campbell not been removed [as council president] that it would have been brought forward.”

Gartner and Surwilo agreed that the draft Surwilo saw might not have been the final version to be presented to the City Council.

“So now we go back to square one with the committee on an issue that’s been important to these communities, including ours, for two years at least,” Gartner told Martinez. “And we’re starting from scratch because of the community malpractice of Dr. Jen Campbell. ... This is a big problem, and that’s why your boss should really step down and not run for reelection. This is outrageous.”

With Campbell up for reelection in November, four candidates declared their bids for her City Council seat during the public comments section of the OBTC meeting: Joel Day, Mandy Havlik, Lina Lukacs and Daniel Smiechowski.

OBTC board election

Meanwhile, the Town Council had its own election to run, with nearly half of its 15 board seats up for election to two-year terms by a vote of the OBTC membership.

The January meeting featured a candidates forum consisting of two-minute statements by the candidates vying for the seven available seats. The hopefuls were Tony Cohen and incumbents Cameron Reid, Connor Harrington, Stephanie Logan, Anna Firicano, Greg Winter and Kimberly Harrell.

Voting in the election closes on Friday, Feb. 4.


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